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StoryCorps Project Connects Corita Kent and Cambridge Residents

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By Melissa C. Rodman, Crimson Staff Writer


“It was like going to confession,” Mickey Myers says of her recent StoryCorps interview with her friend Mary Anne Karia. “You wouldn’t know this because you weren’t a Catholic….You walk up the stairs, and then you’re in this little area, and then you go into...the inner sanctum, and you sit down, and they give you water….And you identify yourself, and you have to say how old you are.”

Myers and Karia’s interview was tangentially connected to a new exhibition, “Corita Kent and the Language of Pop,” that opened at the Harvard Art Museums on Sept. 3. StoryCorps, a national oral history project, arrived on campus in a repurposed RV last Friday and stayed through Sunday to facilitate interviews between pairs of Bostonians whose lives have been touched by Kent and her artwork. “[I]n the museum, we have this opportunity to present the visual face of the exhibition, but StoryCorps takes that exhibition and makes it a conversation that people can actually listen to in their cars, in their living rooms, in their kitchens,” says Susan M. Dackerman, curator of prints at the Harvard Art Museums. “It becomes both more public and more intimate.”

StoryCorps aims to capture testimonials like the one recorded by Myers and Karia, both of whom worked with Kent about 50 years ago and knew her personally: Myers studied under Kent, and Karia served as the printmaker’s studio assistant. The StoryCorps project was a natural fit for the Harvard Art Museums exhibition on Kent and her oeuvre, says Colleen J. Ross, the Director of Marketing and Communications at StoryCorps. “The idea was very much in line with other work that StoryCorps has done in capturing local communities and who lives there,” she says. “The goals were really to augment what was happening in the exhibition to learn about the artist, her life, and her work.”

“Corita Kent and the Language of Pop” features a massive photograph and a model of Kent’s piece “Rainbow Swash,” a massive gas tank located in Dorchester, Mass. and highly visible from the Southeast Expressway. Thick and bright cartoonish brushstrokes drip over the white storage tank, long considered as a major Boston landmark. “Everyone knows the tank, and when they hear her name, of course, that’s what they want to talk about,” Dackerman says. “Doing the StoryCorps recordings actually gives us an opportunity to share with the city other aspects of her production, other stories about her artwork, stories about her life before coming to Boston, and, of course, further explicating stories about the tank.”

The StoryCorps mobile booth, with its rounded edges and burnished steel exterior stamped with the “StoryCorps” decal, is iconic in its own right. Having arrived on campus last Friday, the booth has garnered much attention on the Science Center Plaza, from StoryCorps fans to confused tourists alike. In addition to Myers and Karia, other Cantabrigians and Bostonians scheduled interview times through a form on the Harvard Art Museums website and contributed to the dialogue. “Our mission was to expand [the exhibition] to include local voices,” says Chris Molinksi, Rabb Curatorial Fellow at the Harvard Art Museums.

Watching students pass through the Plaza in between Friday classes, Myers reflects on her time studying with Kent and the role she hopes the exhibition and StoryCorps project will play in visitors’ lives. “The point is that we are of a generation that has had our vitality and our privilege, and it is so affirming to see people who were not alive when Corita was alive, who did not live through the pop era, for whom those advertising slogans are something new,” she says. “To see them...learning about her and...how she put advertising together with social concern and spiritual belief, that is like a culmination. It’s like your kid went to Harvard, except in this case it was my teacher. My teacher went to Harvard.”

—Staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at melissa.rodman@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman.

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